Story by Staff Sgt. Aaron Knowles, 5th Special Forces Public Affairs Office
ALDERSHOT, England – The War of 1812.
The American forces had declared war on the British, because of trade restrictions, blockades and hindering the expansion of American territories into Native American and even Canadian claimed lands.
According to a letter stored in the United Kingdom’s National Archives; in 1814, Major General Robert Ross, an officer in the British Army, received explicit orders from His Royal Highness, the Prince Regent, that he was to proceed with a detachment of troops to the “Coasts of the United States of America” with expedience and “be enabled to take such a position as to threaten the inhabitants with the destruction of their property…”
A month and a half later, on 30 August 1814, MG Robert Ross wrote the British Foreign Secretary with news of his assault.
“My Lord, I have the honor to communicate to your Lordship, that on the night of the 24 instant, after defeating the army of the United States on that day, the troops under my command entered and took possession of the city of Washington,” Ross wrote to the Secretary. “…the following buildings were set fire to and consumed – the Capitol, including the Senate-house and House of Representatives, the arsenal, the dockyard, the treasury, war office, President’s palace, rope-walk and the great bridge across the Potomac…” Ross continued later in the letter.
That was the night the White House burned.
Now, to the point.
Those British Soldiers under the command of MG Robert Ross, who burned the US Capitol, were known as the 85th Regiment of Foot. In 1881, under a reform act, the 85th was reformed into the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, or the Light Infantry Brigade.
Now, bear with me, here is where it gets really good.
In a 1966 Defense White Paper, the Light Infantry Brigade was changed again into what is now known as The Rifles.
And this is where today’s story begins. Old enemies working towards a new goal.
On May 2nd, 2021, Green Berets from the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and Soldiers from the British Army 4 Rifles, began a ten-day training exercise, in Aldershot, England.
The 4 Rifles is an Infantry Battalion, and is one of two infantry units in the UK, known as Specialized Infantry. Their Soldiers, known as Riflemen, are trained to work in small and capable teams while deployed on operations.
Sound familiar? It should. If you look at the United States Special Operations Command website and click 5th SFG (A), you will find this statement: Special Forces Soldiers are renowned for their ability to deploy in small teams, operate independently, and conduct their mission in austere environments.
Sounds like our organizations have a lot in common, huh?
According to Maj. Tom Foulkes-Arnold, the commanding officer of the 4 Rifles, the exercise is a continuation of their relationship with 5th Group, which stretches back several years and started with simple training courses. But like just like our missions, there was a need to innovate and evolve.
“Really, this is the first opportunity that we have had to host the 5th Group in the UK and do some interoperability training,” Tom said. “We were really pleased when the request came to support this training.”
“We’ve termed it “Bold Legion” as a nod to our regimental motto of ‘Swift and Bold’ and to 5th Group’s title as ‘The Legion’,” Tom said, referencing the name of the exercise. “It is the first step in an ever-growing relationship, and we hope that this exercise is the first of many exchanges and joint exercises, because there is plenty that we can learn from each other.”
Looking back even further than the War of 1812, the Rifles, the Light Infantry and the ‘Riflemen’ are historically innovative, Tom said.
The 4 Rifles and 5th Group working together is nothing new. These two units have a long history of cooperation in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. As the relationship continues to deepen, so does the natural progression of increased safety and security, for each of our countries.
The ideas of partnership, interoperability and innovation are even more important to the 4 Rifles now. The Defense Command Paper, which was published on March 22nd, outlines details on how the Ministry of Defense will adapt and modernize to meet future threats.
The DCP detailed the path of transitioning the 4 Rifles into the new British Ranger Regiment, which will work under their newly formed Special Operations Battalion.
According to the DCP, over the next four years, £120-million will be invested into the unit, enabling it to undertake roles traditionally carried out by Special Forces. The Rangers can be expected to be involved in collective deterrence such as training, advising, enabling and accompanying partner forces.
This ‘alignment’ emphasizes, even more, the similarities of the 4 Rifles and the 5th Group mission set.
“The best way to prevent conflict and deter our adversaries is to work alongside partners to strengthen their security and resilience,” British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said. “These Ranger battalions will be at the vanguard at a more active and engaged armed forces.”
With the plan already in place for the transition into the new Ranger Regiment, the 4 Rifles’ training and partnership with 5th Group is a nothing but a win-win situation.
“We, in Army Special Operations Force, learned and structured our special operations from the British [military], and so to me it is only fitting, that as they evolve and expand their SOF forces that we are there to help train with them and partner with them,” Col. Joe Wortham, commander of the 5th SFG (A) said. “Because, we have been with them in every war and every fight since the inception of SOF, from World War II, to present day conflicts. It is important to us to be there alongside our strongest ally.
“There are so many angles in there.” Tom stated excitedly about the continued training together. “There is the social angle, there is the professional respect angle and the recognition of shared ability and capability, which builds trust.”
“Why is this important? It is similar to any high-performance sport team,” Tom continued. “If you build the relationships off of the field, it makes the training easier and it makes the sharing of ideas easier. And then, if you are training effectively together, and there is common understanding, shared endeavors and resources, it means that when you are in a far more pressured environment, those bonds will already be strong. You’ve built a much more effective output in the long run.”
During the exercise, the 4 Rifles took the Green Berets with them to an infamous British Army training area, called Pen Y Fan. Crossing over and successfully scaling the Pen Y Fan is known as the Fan dance, and it was a shared hardship for both the Green Berets and the 4 Rifles. It is also something that not many US Service Members get to experience.
“Lots of countries and lots of units have a kind of ‘flag ship’ physical or mental events, and for the British Infantry and the British Army, the Pen Y Fan is it, or doing the fan-dance,” Tom said enthusiastically.
“Shared endeavor or shard hardship, like when the Soldiers got over the Fan, that sort of stuff builds relationships,” Tom said. “It gives you a common reference point, and it builds respect and understanding on all sides, which is absolutely critical.”
Following the Fan Dance, and no recovery time, the group moved into the tactical portion of the exercise.
This portion of ‘Bold Legion’ included training given by both teams to improve the understanding of tactics and communication, as well as bringing both teams together for integrated planning. Both the 4 Rifles and the Green Berets had the opportunity to share their organizations analysis techniques, intelligence gathering methods and then culminated their portion with an assault on a simulated urban structure.
“At some point again in the future, we are going to find ourselves in the same countries and working towards the same goals, as we have done in the past, and I think that exercises like this one are the things that will set the foundations for success,” Tom stated. “All of this is going to make life a lot easier when we deploy on operations. When we are in theaters, across the globe, wherever we happen to be, it’s going to make life easier.”
Following the tactical portion of the exercise, the team from 5th Group, who specialize in climbing and operating in mountainous regions, treated the 4 Rifles team with some additional climbing training at a local rock climbing facility and outdoor area.
This training was an opportunity for the 5th Group Soldiers to test out their climbing skills, add some fun and informal training to the exercise, as well as socialize with the 4 Rifles.
“An important part of this is [the teams] socializing, getting to know each other and understanding a common language,” Tom said. “The best advocate for our organizations are those that are familiar and can go back and say ‘hey, I worked with these guys and it would be a great opportunity to do it more. We want this to unlock more training opportunities. We want things like this to be the norm.”
Looking back at the history of our two nations, which in the grand scheme of things is not that much time, one would think that there would still be a rift between us, especially those that defend the safety and security of our nations.
But in the case of the Rifles and the 5th Group, looking to the future, innovating and operating in austere environments is what these warriors do. It’s what their trade is built on. And these experiences, the training and the values that these soldiers share, created a bond that transcended nationality, age and history.
That same bond will continue to grow as these two nations continue to evolve and innovate this relationship.
One could say that this partnership is a lot like steel; forged in fire, and strengthened because of those flames.